Philip K Dick's books are always more rewarding for the intricate settings than for the plots. The settings challenge our ideas about our own reality. The ideas in this book have stayed vivid for a long time.
Time running backwards is a difficult subject to do well. At a perfect level, we would simply be unable to comprehend a description of backwards time. Martin Amis has a separate intelligence as narrator, whose mind runs the same way as ours while the world around him has time that runs the other way. Philip K Dick's take is to leave his characters with forward running minds, but place them in a world where all of life is backwards. People get younger and then have to look for mothers so that they can be born. The garbage men bring the rubbish. Restaurants are not pleasant to consider. It is the character's adaptation to this reality that tells us so much about how weird our own civilisation really is.
on 10 October 2008
Written the year after the extraordinary 'Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch', and a year before the equally brilliant 'Ubik', it's hardly surprising that 'Counter Clock World' tends be overlooked and under-rated. It many ways it's a mess of a novel, built on a premise (time running backwards) that Dick deals with only sketchily - probably because it's unsustainable. Although he plays with the idea of people being disinterred from their graves, and has some fun with regurgitated food and cigarettes smoked from butts to full length, he must have realised fairly early on that in order for the plot to function at all, time still has to move forward, from cause to effect, from order to entropy.
Despite all the flaws, and some tedious chapters where not much actually happens, the book is still - like all Dick's work, however hastily written - well worth reading. And the book certainly picks up around the halfway mark, with some riveting action sequences inside the Library, and a final downbeat, disturbing and memorable scene in the same graveyard where the book begins. Along the way Dick explores race, philosophy and religion, manages to caricature two of his many wives, and (as usual) throws in an entertaining mix of mind-boggling sci-fi inventions and ideas, any one of which would be worth a whole novel on its own.
If you're new to Philip K Dick, then don't start here - try 'Time out of Joint', 'A Maze of Death' or 'Do Androids Dream...', before moving on to 'The Man in the High Castle', 'Martian Time-Slip' and the above mentioned 'Three Stigmata' and 'Ubik'. But if, like me, you're already immersed in alternative Dickian worlds, then you won't be disappointed with this curiosity. 7/10.
on 2 August 2015
It's an interesting concept that Dick does really well - time has been going backwards for years, and people are starting to come back from the dead. It's main character, Sebastian Hermes, owns a vitarium, which is a business that finds people waking up in their coffins and gets them out. They then sell that person on to the highest bidder.
It's all going well until the Anarch Peak, the leader of the Free Negro Municipality religion (yes, that's its name) awakens and a battle ensues over who gets him.
The novel is Dick's take on religion, but it has not aged well, with constant references to 'negroes' and 'colored' people.
on 3 August 2009
The reviews already written say plenty about this novel (and they do so excellently, in my humble opinion). I would just like to add a little, though. That is, I advise new readers not to expect much visionary sci-fi. The 'vidphone' is okay, of course, but even that futuristic device requires a 1960s type operator to make a connection from the western United States to Italy. Then, there is the air car, but that's a bit of a cliched item in sci-fi tales and, I have always thought, a fairly far-fetched aspect of sci-fi vision. But both the vidphone and air car are offset not just by the very 1960s element of a phone operator, but also by the 1960s aspects of needing to get up to manually turn of the TV, and the use of reference cards at the Library, and so on. I have to be honest and admit I was shocked at Dick's lack of sci-fi vision in this novel. Perhaps I am overlooking something and will be taken to task for my criticism. If so, that's okay. If I'm wrong, I like to be corrected.
I know the main thrust of the story concerns matters of societal well-being as opposed to 'true,' futuristic sci-fi, but I would still have expected as reknowned a novelist as Dick to appreciate that if the future has flying cars and vidphones, it certainly wouldn't need TVs to be turned off manually.